Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Nato - In or Out?

Given the remarkable discipline that has been shown by the SNP in recent years, it is certain that the discussion about whether or not the party should continue its opposition to NATO membership, has been initiated by the party leadership. Under no other circumstances would the fact that National Council was to discuss the policy, have seen the light of day before June. The softening up process of the membership has begun and will continue until the leadership pushes through the change of policy. It is a high risk strategy but the leadership has pushed through every other change of long-held SNP policy positions, banking on party loyalty and the fear that any breaking of the ranks will be exploited by the Unionists. Any suggestion that the SNP no longer stands for independence, is met with the kind of response that greeted the publication of the Economist magazine cover last week, but open support for NATO will certainly cause some party members to question their continued commitment to the party.

Political columnists have had their say on SNP defence policy over several months, as fear that a "Yes" vote in the referendum would mean the removal of Trident from the Clyde, despite hints from Angus Robertson MP, SNP Defence Spokesman, that some kind of deal might be possible. Few if any of those commenting on the SNP's opposition to NATO and nuclear weapons, have displayed any real understanding of the strength of that opposition, because they have very little knowledge of the history of the party, which has been re-written almost on a weekly basis. Southern commentators know absolutely nothing about the party and perceived wisdom in Scotland is that the SNP achieved little or nothing until the appearance of Alex Salmond who is deemed to be the sole architect of the party's current success. This completely ignores the political achievments of the party in the 1970s and also ignores the first ten years of Salmond's term of office, when the SNP did little more than tread water. The poisoned chalice that John Swinney inherited in 2000 after Salmond demitted office, did not appear by accident. Earlier on this blog under the heading, "The SNP Should Stop Playing Games" I suggested there were more than a few in the current leadership of the party, who would be quite happy to settle for less than the restoration of sovereignty and the re-establishment of the Scottish nation/state. I believe that that is now more evident than ever. England's problem is that they have no alternative site for Trident and they will make every threat imagineable, create as much fear of independence as possible, in their efforts to force Scotland to keep Trident where it is. The fear must now be that if the SNP drops its opposition to NATO, it will also drop its opposition to Trident.

If, at any point since the start of Salmond's second term of office, the party leadership had said, "We are not going to be able to achieve independence in the current climate, therefore we are going to have to take whatever we can get along the way, until we can achieve the ultimate goal. This may entail accepting reforms that are a great deal less than we want but we see it as a step in the right direction. We might never achieve independence but we will push to get as much as we can," there would have been a lot less distrust of what the leadership has tried to do. Instead, no matter how how much control was surrendered to the EU, it was still independence. The decision to retain sterling and give the Bank of England control of monetary policy, will still be independence according to the leadership. We have been told we will have a "seat at the top table" in the EU and have a member in the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England, so that we could influence decisions. It is now being suggested that our opposition to nuclear weapons will allow us to influence other NATO members when we take our seat at yet another "top table". Have those who peddle this tripe taken leave of their senses or are they just being dishonest, in the hope that the rest of us have taken leave of ours? Others peddle the "gradualist" argument, every surrender of political control is presented as gradualism at work. As I tweeted, after 305 years, how gradual do we want to be?

The SNP opposed membership of NATO because it was a military alliance with a "first strike nuclear policy". The party totally opposed the presence of nuclear weapons on the doorstep of the most heavily populated part of Scotland and more than a few of us were arrested demonstrating against that presence. Scotland's disproportionate war losses go much further back than the First World War. Fontenoy, Ticonderoga, Tel-el-Kebir, Mafeking, Loos, Somme, Ypres, St Valery, Alamein, Tobruk, Crete, Sicily, Normandy, Burma, Hook these and many more can all be found on the battle honours of one Highland Regiment, the Black Watch, and it epitomises the contribution made by Scotland to the almost continuous wars fought by Britain. The SNP were determined that an independent Scotland would never call on its young men and women to make that kind of sacrifice again and it should not be forgotten that Alex Salmond condemned NATO's intervention in Serbia in 1999 because it was done without UN sanction.

Some commentators have already conceded that an independent Scotland could stay outside of NATO like Ireland or Switzerland, neither country being bullied and threatened in the way it is forecast an independent Scotland would be, if it had the temerity to stay outside the Alliance. The threats of course are all supposed to come from England, which would lose its place on the Security Council, or the USA just because it can. Alternatively, Scotland could be a member of NATO without the nuclear presence, like Norway and Denmark but the pressure to retain Trident would be immense if membership of NATO was accepted. Harry Reid in The Herald, argued the Labour Party under Blair, finally ditched Clause Four, without the sky falling in but that ignores the fact that the Labour Party had paid absolutely no atttention to Clause Four for many years before it made the reality official policy. It also ignores the fact that Labour under Blair was no longer Labour and there was little left that was worth voting for by the time he left.

The strategy of the SNP leadership is to sell the idea of an independence which changes little or nothing, from the currency, Bank of England control of the economy, the monarchy, membership of the EU and its continued destruction of fishing and agriculture, open borders, social union and BBC TV - musn't miss East Enders - continued cooperation on defence matters with use of military bases and now membership of NATO. In the months before the referendum, is there much more the SNP can concede, will independence leave Scotland as nothing more than a client state?


  1. "Under no other circumstances would the fact that National Council was to discuss the policy, have seen the light of day before June."

    When and by whom was this confirmed?

  2. "...hints from Angus Robertson MP, SNP Defence Spokesman, that some kind of deal might be possible."

    Why no link to these "hints"?

  3. "The fear must now be that if the SNP drops its opposition to NATO, it will also drop its opposition to Trident."

    The word you're looking for is "phobia". That's what we call an irrational fear.

  4. You are perfectly capable of looking up the links yourself. That does not suit your style however, you prefer to dissemble. Have you any comment to make about the substantive points made in the piece, or are you just going to attempt to avoid the issue. It will be too late to deny it, when NC decides to support NATO, something the party leadership has been preparing for, for some time.

    1. I have merely queried some of the claims you have made and enquired as to what evidence you might have to support them. Is this not a perfectly normal part of debate?

      Or is the rule here that we can make whatever assertion that may pop into our head and then challenge others to disprove it?

      If the SNP actually does make any move to change its policy on NATO I will listen to what is being proposed, I will consider this proposal carefully, and then I will comment on it. That is the rational way of doing things.

      What I will not do is allow myself to be provoked by those who are not well-disposed to either the SNP or independence into launching tirades against the party leadership on the basis of rumour, hearsay and the malicious imaginings of political mischief-makers.

      The predictable response will doubtless be along the lines of accusations of unquestioning loyalty to the party and sycophantic admiration of the leadership. The reality is, as I have already stated, that I am perfectly at ease with criticising the leadership when there is cause. But I am not about to contrive reasons for doing so simply in order to prove my credentials as an independent thinker to people whose own intellectual processes are in thrall to the British establishment's media lackeys.

    2. That is the end of that discussion then.

  5. "As I tweeted, after 305 years, how gradual do we want to be?"

    Is it not time you admitted that the gradualist approach has worked. Having been a supporter of the independence campaign for half a century, I sit here now with a pro-independence government in a reconvened Scottish Parliament; looking forward to a genuinely winnable referendum on independence in a couple of years; with the SNP about to sweep the boards in local elections; and polls indicating that the SNP will take a clear majority of Scottish seats at the next UK general election.

    How close did we get to that in the 70s?

    In their eagerness to deny or dismiss this success those who hanker for past simplicities turn a blind eye to a lot. Not least the fact that gradualism is a slow but accelerating process. I wonder sometimes if it is this acceleration that is making them giddy.

  6. When I joined the SNP in 1955 it was in favour of independence from Westminster. There was no Common Market

    It was in favour of independence from Westminster and conditional membership of the Common Market, providing fishing, agriculture etc were controlled from Scotland. This ignored the fact that fishing, agriculture etc were already controlled by the Common Market


    It was in favour of independence from Westminster and in favour of the EEC but opposed to the Single European Act. Membership of the EEC would be subject to a referendum.


    It was in favour of independence from Westminster but in favour of the EU and the Single European Act, but not the Single currency and only after a referendum on the EU.


    It was in favour of independence from Westminster but in favour of the EU, including the Single Currency and no referendum on membership


    Despite being in favour of independence from Westminster, the word independence became increasingly absent from literature for both local and national elections


    It became in favour of a referendum on independence from Westminster but in favour of the EU, with all its centralising treaties, all without a referendum. Membership of the euro would be after a referendum


    It is in favour of independence from Westminster, BUT will keep pound, leave monetary policy under control of Bank of England, share military bases etc.

    There is no doubt gradualism has worked as the above policy creep shows, but independence has somehow become fiscal autonomy and Devo Max is being pushed by SNP leadership. That is quite a journey and we are a long way from the independence the SNP once stood for.

    1. In the 1970s there was no proportional representation and no Scottish Parliament and without the first, the level of representation now enjoyed by the SNP would be a great deal less.

      The party had far greater success under the first past the post system in the 1970s than the party has achieved since in Westminster contests.

    2. Two things. Times change. Circumstances change. Policy changes. Its a political party. Not a fundamentalist cult.

      And SNP policy today does not define the Scotland that will exist after independence. The people will do that. The SNP's role is to take us to the point where we get to make the important decisions ourselves. If the party has to play some political games along the way, I consider that worthwhile.

    3. I am perfectly well aware that you are quite happy to play political games and con the electorate because that is your style. If the SNP is no longer in favour of independence then according to you "times change, policies change". If that is what you want at least be honest enought to tell Scots that is what you want. Don't insult their intelligence and their loyalty by trying to con them into believing you still want independence.

    4. I don't make SNP policy. Please don't get too carried away with the conspiracy theories.

      How can there be any "con" when, as you have amply demonstrated, the evolution of policy is public knowledge? Do you think the electorate are stupid?

      And given the SNP's very explicit, unambiguous and oft-repeated commitment to independence, surely the onus is on you to support your assertion to the contrary. You're not doing too well so far. Your sole argument seems to be that the party isn't the same as it was forty years ago. Nothing is!

      Or am I being overly logical?

    5. Your endless circular arguments are pure sophistry. The "con" is in insisting that the SNP has a "very explicit, unambiguous and oft-repeated commitment to independence". The party has a commitment to the WORD independence and every single position occupied by the party in the past 40 years, they insist is "indpendence". Thus we get the argument that if Scotland, outwith the EU, controls its fishing, that is exactly the same as Scotland inside the EU where the fishing is controlled by the latter.

      Your justification for that and all the other limits on Scotland's control of its own future - from the supine acceptance of every centralising treaty of the EU to the surrender of control of monetary policy to the Bank of England - is that "times change, policies change" and "Gradualism has been successful".

      The problem the party faces is that the electorate is definitely wary of its attempt to claim every change effectively means "no change" and the "SNP is still in favour of independence". Far from being logical, you are simply being dishonest.

    6. At least I offer arguments rather than unsupported assertions. That you see these arguments a "sophistry" may have more to do with your inability to address them in any meaningful way.

      But the dispute between the fundamentalist/absolutist and the progressive/pragmatic view of what independence means is not really the topic here.

      Regardless of whether the SNP's policy is or is not discussed at National Council, and regardless of whether and in what way that policy may be revised, the fact remains that the frenzy and hysteria over mere rumours and speculation is prompted, not by any desire to contribute to or advance the debate around a serious issue in the way that George Kerevan does, but to serve the anti-SNP/anti-independence agenda of the mainstream media.

      And, of course, the desperate need of some to lash out at the SNP leadership by jumping on whatever unionist band-wagon rolls by.

      Rather obviously, we differ on a lot of things. But I would sincerely hope that we at the very least agree on the need to secure independence in order to build the better nation to which we aspire - each by his own lights. I contend that this project is best served by cooperating with the SNP, rather than seeking every opportunity to undermine its efforts with petty and pointless sniping.

      I further contend that the purpose to create a better nation is best served by free exploration off the potential and rational discussion of the options that independence will bring, rather than by allowing the debate to be constrained or shut down completely by adherence to rigid dogma.

  7. So, even within the UK democracy has moved on over the many years.

    That is as gradualist as it gets, but progressive 'gradualism' of a sort never predicted over the last ten years (or two years) in Scotland for the SNP as a party of power, steadfastly in a Government majority (the only one currently within these Isles) and this made us able to see a Referendum Bill on Scottish Independence in the (near enough) future.

    However, that aside, my comment on this article is on this statement:

    "The fear must now be that if the SNP drops its opposition to NATO, it will also drop its opposition to Trident."

    I am perplexed.

    What does "dropping opposition to NATO' actually mean with no evidence to back it up?

    How on earth can a mere speculation on the SNP perhaps debating their party position with regard to NATO at a National Council meeting, (which may or may not be true) with no primary source or evidence of any sort of substance worthy of credibility, lead to the " will also drop its opposition to Trident".

    Is there any reason to believe that this pro nuclear stance could be 'levered in' so to speak, when it is a mainstay of the SNP from a policy perspective?

    If there is a change in approach to NATO, in the many forms available (not just 'joining" NATO) I will be all ears, but the fact people have been conned into questioning the whole raison d'ĂȘtre of the SNP based on an un-sourced speculative article (I think initially by the bbc) is just pure knee jerk reaction if ever there was one.

    Call me cynical, but the way I roll is that I require some sort of proof to speculate on this matter to the degree we have seen, it grew its own legs as it was no doubt intended to, but I certainly require (some-any!) evidence to claim major policy changes are afoot, these alleged major changes cited with no perceivable advantage to the SNP whatsoever.

    Or evidence.

    As John Lydon once said "ever felt you've been cheated"?

    1. If NATO was not to be discussed at June NC, HQ would have denied the story immediately, the reaction would have been as strong as that which greeted the cover of the Economist. The leadership has not uttered a word.

      By definition, there is no prior "proof" for speculative argument but that is what the study of politics calls for - "intelligent speculation". To the political anorak there are signs, odd words here and there, political positions struck by leading individuals in parties, all of which points in a certain direction. Sometimes the speculation is right, sometimes it is wrong.

      At the June 1987 National Council of the SNP, the NC took a decision that there must be a debate on the party's commitment to the EU. This was in response to a resolution that came from the NEC, calling for complete support for the EU, divided into a series of paragraphs, each one laying out a different area of policy.

      At the September Annual Conference, delegates turned up on the first day to be greeted by a massive banner strung across conference hall, with the words, "Independence in Europe". As a member of the NEC and a well-known opponent of the EU and the single currency, I knew nothing about it because the decision had been taken by a few Euro fanatics inside the leadership, in defiance of the NC resolution and without any discussion with opponents of the policy such as myself.

      The SNP has never been above the leadership manipulating policy. We will see what June brings but don't be surprised if, after NC, John Lydon's words are ringing in your ears.

    2. "The leadership has not uttered a word."

      Not true. The party issued a statement almost immediately -

      It is understood that no motion relating to Nato membership has yet been submitted.

      An SNP spokesman said: "Anything that may happen in the future is mere speculation. If a motion is submitted it will be considered by the party's Standing Orders and Agenda Committee who will decide if it goes forward for debate. This reflects the democratic processes at the heart of the SNP."

      Of course, if you rely on the BBC and The Scotsman for information then you would be unlikely to know anything of this. And the question becomes one of why you give more credence to the unsourced speculation of the hostile media than to statements from the SNP.

    3. That is not a denial as you know perfectly well but it is typical of the kind of argument to which politics-watchers are used. Party officials make their living from producing this kind of spin

    4. Of course it's not a denial. How could it be? The "party official" could not rule out the possibility that the issue would come up before National Council. That could only come from the party's Standing Orders and Agenda Committee at the appropriate time and in the appropriate way.

      Those intent on mischief are aware of such things and utilise them fully in their attacks. Again I remind you that the SNP is not alone in having an agenda here.

  8. "...that is what the study of politics calls for - "intelligent speculation"."

    And that is precisely what we are not getting from certain quarters. We are getting knee-jerk reactions and some very athletic leaping to conclusions.

    It is, of course, always possible that the issue of NATO policy could be raised at National Council. My point is that critical assessment of the speculation we have seen from the BBC and others, taking account of all available information, does not justify the conclusions being leapt to.

    And that will not change even if the policy is discussed. The issue here is whether the fuss is justified at this time. As a seasoned observer I am obliged to conclude that it is not. So I am bound to wonder why some people are so keen to accept the crap that the media shovels at them.

    After all, if the SNP leadership has an agenda, they're unlikely to be the only ones.

  9. One of my main reasons for doubting the speculation about the SNP's intention to review its NATO policy is that nobody had offered a convincing explanation as to why they would do this. We were asked to believe that the SNP would abandon a perfectly serviceable policy for the sake of an electoral advantage that was, at the very least, highly dubious.

    In The Scotsman today George Kerevan presents an argument which must make all but the most dogmatic opponent of NATO membership pause to reconsider. (

    To be sure, Kerevan offers no more factual basis for accepting that the SNP plans to discuss its position on NATO at National Council in June. That much is still speculation. What makes Kerevan's article different is the fact that he is not motivated by a prejudiced need to show the SNP and its leadership in the worst light possible. He is not intent upon portraying this putative policy review as entirely a matter of cheap political expediency. Instead, he offers a thoughtful and thought-provoking argument that changing policy on NATO may be a positive thing.

    We may now move on to discuss the questions raised by Kerevan's article. But this will not alter the fact that the initial speculation offered by the BBC and others was prompted by motives far less worthy than a desire to promote reasoned debate about a very important issue.

    1. You will have to ask the leadership why they would consider joining NATO at this time. The SNP had a "perfectly serviceable policy" on the euro until they decided to go gung-ho in favour of entry. They were well warned of the likely consequences, with which we are all living now. I believe it is still the long-term aim of the party,although unlikely to happen any time within the next decade. The reference for that is John Swinney, although the fact his statement appeared in The Scotsman must make it highly dubious - for you at least.

    2. "You will have to ask the leadership why they would consider joining NATO at this time."

      I think George Kerevan has offered some valuable input on that. He makes a perfectly valid case for Scotland joining. Which is, to my mind at least, a lot more productive than insisting that the matter shouldn't even be up for discussion.

      I don't share your Europhobia. On that as well I tend to prefer to be guided by pragmatism rather than emotion. But that is another matter.

      On The Scotsman I would suggest only that it is probably sensible to at least be wary of the motives of an organ which has declared, and which daily demonstrates, a fervent antipathy to the cause of independence and a borderline pathological hatred of the SNP.

    3. No one is suggesting the policy should not be discussed.

      My opposition to the EU - not Europe - has nothing to do with phobia and everything to do with a realistic assessment of the centralising tendencies of the organisation. The euro cannot work without even more centralisation and "fiscal harmonistation" but that is what the euro fanatics want. They also claim "pragmatism".

    4. Jim's right. The SNP will change its policy on NATO. Everybody following the debate knows this. Scotland will continue to host Trident for at least a decade after independence is achieved, if indeed it is. Peter just needs to ask the party leadership.

    5. I have never denied that the SNP might change its policy on NATO. Only that we don't know for certain that it will. And that we most certainly don't know what the change will entail. How can anybody comment sensibly on a proposal that doesn't even exist?

    6. The SNP leadership has been discussing changing party policy on NATO for at least the last 15 years. Adherence to it makes the party considerably less credible as a potential government of a small independent state. The problem has always been persuading the great unwashed masses of party members. The current NATO stance leaves the party needlessly open to attack in the run up to the iependence referendum. That's why the policy will change.
      Ask anyone on the NEC.